Can restaurant managers ask sick employees about their symptoms?
Under Food Code, to prevent spread of foodborne illness, yes
While health concerns are usually considered private matters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants restaurant managers to talk to employees who are ill, to make sure they don’t spread foodborne illness to co-workers and customers.
It’s a significant problem. Nearly half of restaurant-related outbreaks are caused by sick food workers.
Managers may be hesitant to ask their employees about symptoms and diagnoses, especially since that conversation might lead to workers missing work and forgoing pay.
The Food Code
However, the CDC says the Food Code encourages employee and manager conversations about foodborne illness.
The Food Code is a science-based model code published by the Food and Drug Administration that states can use to develop or update their food safety rules to help prevent illness and outbreaks. It says that employees should tell their managers about possible foodborne illness symptoms and that it is the manager’s responsibility to ensure employees are aware of these reporting requirements.
All state and local food codes in the United States are modeled on the FDA Food Code.
In terms of privacy concerns, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) does prevent a health care provider from sharing health information about an employee with that employee’s manager but it does not prevent a restaurant manager from asking an employee about their illness symptoms.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) also does not prevent managers from asking employees about foodborne illness symptoms and diagnoses. Most foodborne illnesses are mild and short-term and are not considered disabilities under ADA. If an employee does not have an ADA disability, the manager can follow the Food Code’s guidance without considering the ADA. And in the rare event that an employee does have a foodborne illness that is considered a disability, employers would consider both ADA and the Food Code.
- Food Code (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
- Food Safety Resources for Environmental Health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- How to Comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for Restaurants and Other Food Service Employers (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)